Sri Aurobindo, The Mother & the Ashram

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, South India is a community of about two thousand members from over fifty different countries who have come together to form an active communal society based on the ideal of making all life a means toward a progressive self-perfection of the individual and the collectivity.

Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta in 1872 but received his entire education in England, graduating with highest honours from Cambridge. Upon returning to his native India he was drawn into the political movement to free the country of British rule. He became an active leader of the underground revolutionary movement for Independence and spent a year in jail on false charges. It was during his political period that Sri Aurobindo was exposed to the powers and practices of Indian yoga. He was not at all interested in his own "spiritual liberation" but came to believe that a spiritual discipline could be an effective power for shaping events in the national life. For three years he combined his outer activity with an inner yogic discipline until in 1910 he received word of another British attempt to imprison him. He secretly withdrew to the French Protectorate of Pondicherry where he spent the last 40 years of his life working for Indian freedom, world unity and the spiritual evolution of man. During the period 1914-1920 he published chapters of his major works in philosophy, yoga, sociology, politics, English poetry and many other subjects, in a monthly journal. In 1914 a French woman, Mira Richard, later known as The Mother, came to Pondicherry to meet him. She returned in 1920 to work with him and to organise the community of seekers which was growing around him and later became known as the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

From the outset Sri Aurobindo’s attraction to yoga was as a potential means to improve life in the world and this aim never left him. He proceeded to develop a philosophy and discipline which had for its goal not merely the fulfillment of a few isolated individuals but the upliftment of the whole collective life of mankind. He envisioned and worked for the ideal of human unity--a political unification of all nations and a spiritual brotherhood of all men.

The Sanskrit word "yoga" literally translated means "union", union of the individual with the Divine. The yoga of Sri Aurobindo contains two essential movements. First, by a gathering of energies, a concentration, purification, and aspiration, the individual seeks to become conscious of his own true self or being deep within his own heart, the soul or the divine spark in man. Simultaneously he opens himself to the Divine Consciousness-Force above and allows it to pour down into him and fill him with its Presence. Once this contact has been established he learns to strengthen the connection between this inmost being and his outer personality, to make the latter more and more expressive of the knowledge, love, joy and power secret within and above him. By this movement his personality grows in perfection and he gains the capacity to concretely and constructively influence other people and conditions in the external world. In practise the discipline emphasises not only concentration and meditation but a fully active physical, emotional and mental life whereby each of these elements can grow and become open to the Divine influence.

The Ashram refused to become another small isolated group of devotees following their own quiet way of life to the exclusion of the outer world. Based on the concept that "All Life is Yoga", that there is no human activity which cannot be made a field for spiritual growth and which cannot be effectively influenced through one’s own inner discipline, the Ashram became a very dynamic institution spread throughout and integrated with the larger city of Pondicherry in which it was situated. The yogic discipline was based on the uniqueness of the individual and the freedom of each to follow his own path which made rigidly defined procedures and set practices a fetter to maximum progress. Only broad guidelines were given to supplement the constant personal attention given by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother to those around them. The Ashram grew to include a full spectrum of activities: agricultural farms, dairies, poultry, bakery, laundry, flower gardens, food and clothing services, engineering and construction, hand-made paper and other cottage industries, high-quality furniture production, two large printing presses issuing publications in 14 languages, and others. In 1950 the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education was opened which now receives students from all over the world for kindergarten through college level and includes a large library of English, French, German and Indian literature, a theatre for drama and dance, dormitories and fully equipped gymnastic, field and aquatic facilities for a complete program of physical education.

In November of 1973 The Mother passed away, at the age of 95. Yet the ideals for which Sri Aurobindo and she had worked have not died with them. They took great care to see that this community should not become another religious institution espousing a dogma and seeking to enlist followers nor that it should degenerate into a cult of personality worship and die with the passing of its founders. They were determined to establish a viable self-sufficient community of individuals where each man had freedom to follow his own line of development while at the same time contributing to the general upliftment of the community and the larger body of humanity. With great foresight The Mother prepared for the future by founding a new city, Auroville, which is designed to enlarge on the experiment begun in the Ashram, and extend it to embrace a broader field of worldly life.

Auroville is located five miles north of Pondicherry on the red sandy soil of the Coromandal Coast. It was founded in 1967 when students from all over the world came with soil from their native countries and UNESCO adopted it as the first international city on earth. Designed to eventually contain upwards of 50,000 citizens, at present there are about 400 residents from over 20 different countries living and working in the first communities. The entire city has been planned by a team of architects from France, Germany, Italy and India to include four main sectors--Residential, Industrial, Cultural and International--and a large agricultural belt surrounding the spiraling core. The international sector will contain pavilions representing the different countries and cultures of the world.

Already the first community at Aspiration has three schools where local village children and children from other parts of India, from the U.S., Canada, France, England, Germany, Holland etc. are participating in various experimental programs designed to extend education outside the classroom so as to embrace all aspects of community life and to make Auroville a Univer-city. There is also a large hand-made paper factory, a fiber-glass plant and printing press in operation.

Auroville has been established as an experiment in Human Unity where each individual is freed from bondage to moral and social conventions and the necessity of working for material possessions. There is no religion practised here, no money used, no ownership of property. The emphasis is on each man discovering his own inner center behind the social, moral, cultural and racial heredity and appearances and actively living from that center, expressing it in outer work for the community.

The Auroville Charter reads:

1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular.

Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole, but to live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.

2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress and a youth that never ages.

3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realization.

4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.

There are a number of other active groups radiating out from the Ashram. Various societies have been designed to further Sri Aurobindo’s vision of the ideal of Human Unity. The Mother’s Service Society is working to extend the application of yoga to the field of economic and social development through its project at Mother Estates and to extend Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of spiritual evolution into all areas of man’s intellectual pursuit.

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